Do you think that Artificial Intelligence (AI) will have a positive or negative effect on ‘your life in the near future? Dave Pattman, Managing Director CX Services at Gobeyond Partners, part of the Webhelp Group examines the results of our recently commissioned YouGov poll to find out what people really think about the future.

We worked with the polling experts YouGov to ask over 2,000 British adults what they think and it would appear that people still believe in the importance of the human touch in their interactions with brands. In our survey, 44% said that they do not think AI will impact them positively in any way and 52% said that it would make dealing with brands more impersonal.

Webhelp recently published a report on the future of automation and we commissioned the YouGov survey to find out what people really think – just normal consumers who don’t spend each day thinking about customer experience or AI strategy. It was clear from several different responses that a large majority of UK consumers prefer dealing with humans over automated services for everything from querying a bill (85%) and changing account details (62%) to making a complaint (84%), buying a product or service for the first time (77%), chasing an order (73%) or dealing with a fault (78%).

Almost half of the respondents (45%) said they have never used any type of AI, although it is becoming so pervasive that people may not even be aware that AI is often creating their product recommendations or special offers. Amongst those who know they have used AI almost half (44%) believe that it will not positively impact their life in the next five years.

Most people know from their own anecdotal evidence that human-to human contact is important when asking a brand for help, but this study from Webhelp goes even further, highlighting the degree to which people favour it over AI-powered customer service tools and are negative about AI’s potential future impact.

Many people are not aware of how AI is changing their relationship with brands, but they are gradually becoming more exposed to AI systems. Even so, this research confirms the importance of striking the right balance between the advanced technology services we offer and the incredible human talent of our local teams of agents, advisors and planners. We, at Webhelp, strike the right balance between the advanced technology available and real people – humans helping humans.

Our approach will always be customer experience driven, so this window into consumer perception is extremely valuable for helping our clients implement AI solutions that offer clear end-user value. Research like this can help us to plan how we work with our clients in future.

It is interesting to note that there is a clear divide between AI systems that customers choose to use and those that are forced on them. For example, people with a smart speaker system at home such as the Amazon Echo (Alexa) or Google Home are mostly satisfied with the way it functions – 77% said they are satisfied with their smart system. However, only 45% of people who had used a chatbot for a customer service question said that they were satisfied. Users of automated Interactive Voice Response (IVR) systems were even less satisfied at 38%.

Discover more from our recent blog post on ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE ON THE CX FRONTLINE

People are likely to be more receptive to AI in future as they experience it more often – smart speakers are selling so fast today that during peak periods like Black Friday it has been impossible for even major brands like Amazon to keep up with the demand. As people become comfortable with AI systems in their own home, there is the potential for them to feel more comfortable with brands using AI.

However, our study found that most customers are pessimistic about the future as they foresee companies automating many more customer service interactions even though they would prefer to maintain service by humans. 26% of respondents felt that automating customer service functions would make interacting with companies much worse in future – just 19% said that they think this will create an improved customer experience. It was also interesting to note that 46% of customers mentioned their concerns around data privacy and security as a negative aspect of further digitisation of services.

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As you might expect, age is an important factor in the acceptance of AI. Younger generations have grown up as digital natives, constantly using technology and so it is to be expected that they would be happy to use AI and would expect it to be helpful. In fact over 90% of respondents aged 55 or over reported a preference for a human interaction when contacting a company. However, AI is not universally accepted as better by the younger demographic groups – 45% of 18-24 year olds said they would be happy with a chatbot so even the younger consumers have a majority that still prefers human interaction.

A big difference can be seen when comparing the belief that AI will have no positive impact on their life in the next five years. The older respondents supported this view with 60% agreeing, but only 26% of the young adults only supported it. But it also seems that younger consumers are more aware of the value of their data. More than half of the customers aged 25-34 are worried about threats to privacy and security compared to 45% of those 55 or above. And about a third of those 18-24 worry about AI’s impact on their job prospects compared to only 15% of those 55 or above. Perhaps that is just because they can see their entire career ahead of them and therefore automation of work is far more worrying to those who are far from retirement.

It is clear that good customer experience cannot be delivered by technology alone. It’s important to think about the overall process and journey, and how to create value for both companies and customers. Any attempt to leverage automated services should start with this thinking and ensure that automated and human-led services are working effectively, in tandem with one another. From a customer experience point of view, AI creates an opportunity for brands to deliver greater convenience, speed of response and accessibility. But it’s important to note that this doesn’t replace people. It decreases the volume but increases the value of human interaction.

I do believe that this research confirms that managers with a responsibility to plan how they can deliver the best possible customer experience need to strike the right balance between the advanced technology available and real people – humans helping humans. Consumer attitudes may change as AI becomes normalised in homes, but at present there is a strong feeling that too much of a focus on AI and automation will reduce the overall quality of customer service.

How do we really want to interact with brands? What do we really think about AI and Automation? How important is it to strike the right balance between human talent and AI and Automation for CX? Read our AI and Automation paper to find out more, or check out our latest Whitepaper on Emotion here.